Sunday, March 3, 2024

2023 Players Championship leaderboard: Scottie Scheffler strolls to dominant win at TPC Sawgrass

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The Players Championship has a way about it where it can turn wild and wonderful down the stretch of the tournament. Monster comebacks, dramatic, clutch shots and bonehead decisions have all been on the table. The unexpected is expected. There was none of that in the 2023 edition of this tournament, however, as Scottie Scheffler imposed his will across the final round at TPC Sawgrass en route to winning the PGA Tour’s flagship event at 17 under.

In doing so, Scheffler won the $4.5 million winner’s share and became just the third golfer ever to serve as the reigning champion at The Players and the Masters simultaneously, joining Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Scheffler. “Long day, tough day. I knew the conditions were going to get really hard late and I did a really good job of staying patient, not trying to force things, and then I got hot kind of in the middle of the round and, yeah, tried to put things away as quickly as I could.”

Were there moments on Sunday when others felt like they had a chance to win? Sure. Did they actually have a chance? Eh, probably not. Once Scheffler grabbed a two-stroke lead late on Saturday, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year had all but wrapped up his sixth victory over his last 27 tournaments.

There were times when Scheffler’s playing competitor, Min Woo Lee, charged at him — namely with a birdie at the opening hole, but never once did it the trophy appear out of the Texan’s grasp. While Lee rocked a turquoise mock turtleneck, gaudy sunglasses and a bodacious mullet, Scheffler remained his normal even-keeled, montone self.

Scheffler’s overnight lead had vanished by the time the final pair walked off the third green when he made his only real mistake of the day. Four boring pars in a row put Scheffler back on track and through conventional run-of-the-mill play his lead had grown to three.

Player after player would try their hand at Pete Dye in the waning moments of the championship — Hideki Matsuyama looked prime to post a number, Max Homa had his chances, Tyrrell Hatton tied the lowest score ever on the back nine — and while they were able to overcome the course architect, they never sniffed the course conqueror.

Any doubt was put to rest when Scheffler chipped in for his first birdie of the day on the difficult par-3 8th. Another birdie on the ninth all but secured a finish inside the top five — the result needed to reclaim the world No. 1 ranking. A birdie on 10 was just rude, and two more on 11 and 12 put those who have claimed Jon Rahm to be the best player in the world on high alert.

Four straight pars preceded five straight birdies, which were followed by six holes of simply soaking it in. While it may not have made for the greatest theater down the stretch like some Players Championships of the past, for Scheffler, the more mundane, the better.

Whether in life or on the course, the newly minted world No. 1 has often leaned into being boring despite what prognosticators and writers would like to see or hear from the top man in the sport. He doesn’t care about the Official World Golf Rankings like many before him, citing “it’s just an algorithm,” but it nonetheless matters. His weeks off consist of hanging around his house and working on his backyard just like you or I might.  

Yet despite his level-headed nature and average joe personality, Scheffler’s game is anything but average. His feet perform some variation of the salsa on every swing of the driver, making one wonder, “How in the world does he square the club face at impact?”

His hands are the softest when moments are tensest and his knuckles should be the whitest. He doesn’t fill up the cup on the greens, but he does just enough — Scheffler was the only player without a three-putt this week — and when he does pour them in, you can just about hand him the trophy.

Scheffler’s game does his talking — just as it always has — and this week at the biggest stop on the PGA Tour’s calendar it made a statement: The man who ran through 2022 is on the cusp of doing exactly the same a year later.

If you find that boring, well, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Grade: A+

2. Tyrrell Hatton (-12): The Englishman began his day nine strokes behind Scheffler and at one point hit seven straight pars. Playing his front nine in even par, Hatton rode the heater of the year thus far when he signed for a 29 — tying the back-nine record at TPC Sawgrass — and posted the clubhouse lead at 12 under. This effort proved to be good for a runner-up finish and his second consecutive quality outing. Grade: A-

T3. Viktor Hovland (-10): Short game, short game, short game. The chipping continues to hinder Hovland, and this week was no different. His irons were splendid across four days, and if not for a disappointing third round, he could have been closer to Scheffler to start Sunday. He never really had a chance to win this championship, but this performance marks his second straight top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass. Grade: B+

T6. Max Homa (-8): The finish was less than desirable, but Homa continues to rise in these big fields. There is a legitimate case to be made that he is a top five player in the world as he slowly makes the transition from his native poa annua putting surfaces to the grainy Bermuda of the East Coast. His ball striking remained sound at TPC Sawgrass, but it was the second straight tournament where he disappointed on the greens. Grade: B+

T13. Collin Morikawa (-7): Morikawa became the tournament favorite following his 7-under 65 on Thursday. That was as good as it would get for him as he played his final 54 holes in even par including a disappointing day of even par on Saturday when conditions were at their easiest. The putting improvements that were evident at the Tournament of Champions are currently nowhere to be found. He ranked third in strokes gained tee to green and second in strokes gained approach only to rank 66th in strokes gained putting. Grade: C

T60. Justin Thomas (E): He just never really got things going this week. After making the cut on the number, the 2021 winner signed for rounds of 71-71 over the weekend to finish nearly three touchdowns off the pace. The signs of his game are there. He had great iron performances in the middle portion of this tournament and impressed from around the green on Sunday. However, he hasn’t been able to piece them all together for a whole tournament let alone a round. To make matters worse, the putter is just flat out bad at the moment as he lost roughly five strokes to the field on the greens. Grade: D-

MC. Rory McIlroy: The 2019 champion was never able to recover from an opening 76. Paired with Scheffler and Jon Rahm, who was forced to withdraw Friday morning, the world No. 3 was the bottom man on the totem pole. His short game was poor for his standards but perhaps more concerning was his driving. Voicing concern about the new model of driver he is playing, McIlroy will have to figure out that club moving forward. Morikawa, another TaylorMade staffer, ditched the most recent edition of the driver and it will be interesting if McIlroy follows suit. Grade: F

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